Board Corner: Boards Are Better With NCSI Advising Them

At the National Charter Schools Institute, we know that people choose to serve on charter school boards for many reasons. But one reason that unites everyone is to make a positive difference for kids. It’s why board members give up their time to ensure that budgets are balanced, ask the tough questions about school performance, and serve as ambassadors for their schools. This is challenging work, but it is needed to position kids for success.

One of the pillars of our work at the National Charter Schools Institute is empowering charter school boards to govern effectively and wisely. The cornerstone of our support of boards is our Board Policies Service. Our team of seasoned associates offers individualized consulting and guidance to school leadership. We provide recommended updates and advise on how policies can be effectively used each day.

Dan Warren, School Consultant for Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU) Charter Schools Office, highly encourages all of their charter schools to use the Institute’s training. Warren says that, as an authorizer, GVSU strives to train board members on process, procedure, oversight, and governance, and the Institute is a great resource to help do that.

“Most boards have the concern of ‘are we following the law? Are we doing the right thing?’” Warren said. “The Institute helps relieve that tension because the Institute organizes and explains the polices that boards legally operate from.

“School boards are made up of lay people. At GVSU, we want to make sure that the school boards we put together understand their roles. They are required to establish all of their articles and policies. That can be very imposing to a new board. We discovered that the Institute is an excellent resource to train our boards about what it is to be a public charter school board, what type of governance is needed, and about the legalities a school board must comply with.”

Though the Institute is not a law firm, it works in partnership with a national policies service and Michigan-based legal counsel to ensure that all policies have the right blend of legal vetting and field testing needed to operate a school.

“Let’s say a school is getting started and they need to get their legal paperwork together—board polices, school policy, regulatory policies, etc.” Warren said. “That could be a seven-inch binder full of paperwork—from safety, to working with employees, to state regulations. That’s cumbersome and much of it is jargon. The Institute will make sense of it for the board. They will walk the school through it, explain the policies and why they are necessary, and explain how to execute and update them. We expect our boards to use their policies to drive decisions as this helps them to ensure they are following the rules associated with being a public board.

“What the Institute does is take a complicated issue, simplify it, and give boards the tools to understand and comply with it,” Warren said. “For example, boards need a policy on student discipline behavior—there is state regulation regarding due process, and the board must understand that and follow the rules. If the board wants to hire, fire, or even buy something, they need to follow the rules, and most new board members don’t know that. And these polices get updated every year.

Institute associates also ensure that each policy manual is right for each school by providing advice and guidance on policies can be tailored to fit their unique needs.

“Approximately 80% of the policy manual consists of required policies aligned with all public schools, while 20% may be customized for an individual or specialized school. For instance, a virtual school will have specific policies unique to their operation. The institute provides assistance and guidance for boards to develop and understand all their policies. In addition, the Institute will provide and train boards with all the necessary yearly updates.

In 2016, the Institute provided board training to 169 schools in Michigan. Also, the Institute provided 74 schools with companion administrative guidelines service that unite board-approved policies and day-to-day management to provide a clear direction for school operations.

Additionally, the Institute provides governance training for schools and organizations throughout the nation. This year, the Institute’s seasoned professionals led trainings in Georgia, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and New Jersey.

The Institute also works individually with select clients to tailor trainings, facilitate retreats, and provide needed coaching and consulting to support their operations. In 2016, the Institute provided direct, customized support to the boards of Walden Green Montessori, Jackson Prepatory and Early College, and Muskegon Heights Public School Academy in Michigan, and to the Macon Charter Academy in Georgia.

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